By Jason Keidel
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Ever since cable magnate Charles Dolan handed his son the remote, it has been painfully clear that his progeny is hardly a prodigy.
Among James Dolan's greatest hits is hiring Isiah Thomas, who then, after costing Dolan $11.6 million in a sexual harassment lawsuit, was rehired to run a women's basketball team.
Then there were all the draft busts, from Frederic Weis to Michael Sweetney. And there were the wretched acquisitions, from Stephon Marbury to Jerome James to Eddy Curry. Then there was the $100 million they gave to Allan Houston.
Then Dolan handed Phil Jackson, who's never run a franchise, $60 million to run a franchise. Jackson then gave his aging, decaying All-Star, Carmelo Anthony, $120 million and an unthinkable no-trade clause. Melo is the only active or recently active player who has no rings and a no-trade clause.
Ever the innovator, Jackson has his hand buried in the recycle bin, hiring his minions as head coach. Starting with Derek Fisher, who'd never coached an NBA club, only to fire him after a year and a half. Then he hired another triangle acolyte, Kurt Rambis, who only added to his losing record.
Now Jackson, still woefully tethered to the triangle, is looking for Rambis' replacement, which could very well mean giving Rambis an extension.
Everyone wanted Jackson to hire Tom Thibodeau, the defensive guru who once coached under Jeff Van Gundy and led the Chicago Bulls to a string of playoff appearances. It was a no-brainer. Which, of course, means Jackson passed on him.
Then there's David Blatt, the only candidate left with a glowing coaching record and an NBA Finals appearance. He's also the only one who had LeBron James on his roster. But Blatt has the experience and knowledge to get another shot. Indeed, he was fired with a 30-11 record this season.
Now, the Knicks have reached out to gauge the interest of Frank Vogel, the fine basketball mind who was just let go by Larry Bird and the Pacers. This wasn't seen so much as a job poorly done as much as too much time in the same spot. Even Pat Riley admits that a coach can overstay his welcome, that his message, no matter how intense or innovative, eventually falls on deaf ears.
Of course, there are two New York icons who would hitchhike across the continent to coach the Knicks, yet the Knicks won't even interview either.
That would be Mark Jackson and Patrick Ewing, of course. Mark Jackson, born and raised in the Big Apple, has actual coaching experience and helped build the Warriors juggernaut that is now nine wins from bagging a second-straight NBA title. While Steve Kerr gets the gold star on his desk, he inherited a great team, one built in part by Mark Jackson.
Ewing has toiled on the lost edge of the bench for 13 years. One of the 50 greatest players in NBA history, he hardly sat on his hands after his Hall of Fame career, jumping right into the coaching crucible. His renowned, epic work ethic has never waned. Instead of drenched jerseys and a sweat-pocked forehead, Ewing now broods over charts, chalkboards and picks-and-rolls. Yet for all his work, he still hasn't landed a head coaching gig. New York City, seen as the most progressive and enlightened city in America, is alarmingly retrograde in this regard.
But these are just details, the nuance behind the damage and carnage of incompetence. The Knicks aren't a player or two away from prosperity. Because they don't have the management to pick those players. Because they don't have the owner to pick the people who pick the players.
Jerry Krause was killed for asserting that organizations win championships. When you have Michael Jordan it's hard to look past the players who win the games. But if you look deep enough, the Bulls really did well in surrounding Jordan with the coaches and wingmen to fuel Air Jordan toward immortality. There's no dynasty without Scottie Pippen or Horace Grant or Phil Jackson.
Jackson is arguably the greatest coach in NBA history. The problem is the Knicks hired him to build a team, not to coach it. Jackson may not be in over his head here. But clearly his head isn't into it.
Instead of scanning scouting reports, instead of gobbling up frequent flyer miles, instead of hopscotching the nation in search of that singular gem who can turn the Knicks into contenders, Jackson is lounging in some Woodstock shack -- and tweeting about it. Jackson waits for his hardwood epiphanies while luxuriating on some verdant Montana hillside, meditating on life by a creek.
Whatever the problem, Phil Jackson thinks a river runs through it.
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